But go beyond the sound bite and you'll find a different view.
President Obama’s announcement that “the Federal Government will reduce greenhouse gas pollution from indirect sources, such as employee travel and commuting, by 13 percent by 2020” was read as an attack on business travel by the U.S. Travel Association, the National Business Travel Association, and other industry observers.
After the White House released the statement July 20, U.S. Travel reacted by calling it an effort “to arbitrarily curb business travel by government employees in an effort to protect the environment.” Meanwhile, a press release from the National Business Travel Association said NBTA “is disappointed to see the Obama Administration take another misguided swing at the travel industry.” Michael W. McCormick, executive director and COO of NBTA, stated, “President Obama’s recent statements calling for a reduction in government travel are troubling for two reasons. First, they are part of a pattern of negative and misguided comments from the administration that hurt the travel industry at an incredibly challenging time. Second, they seem to imply that cutting travel is the goal. The goal should be to use travel as cost-effectively as possible to meet the needs of the United States. Instead of unilateral cuts I encourage government agencies to reach out to the industry and learn how to properly manage travel and ‘green’ their travel system.”
A Closer Look
A closer look at President Obama’s July 20 statement and the October 2009 Executive Order to which it refers shows a more measured tone than what one might expect based on the industry reactions.
Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, signed October 9, 2009, covers emissions reductions from three sources. The first two (labeled “scope 1” and “scope 2”) are the major focus of the executive order. Scope 1 emissions are “direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by Federal agencies,” while scope 2 emissions are “direct greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by a Federal agency.”
The July 20 announcement deals with scope 3 emissions, which are “greenhouse gas emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by a Federal agency but related to agency activities such as vendor supply chains, delivery services, and employee travel and commuting.” The timing of the announcement follows a requirement in the original executive order that the heads of all government agencies report a percentage reduction target for scope 3 emissions within 240 days.
In establishing the target, the executive order suggested that heads of agencies “consider reductions associated with implementing strategies and accommodations for transit, travel, training, and conferencing that actively support lower-carbon commuting and travel by agency staff.”
Rather than an arbitrary or unilateral business travel curb, this suggestion seems to mirror the current focus of many corporations that are taking a closer look at the costs of travel and meetings, adding virtual components when it makes sense, and following through on travel that has a direct impact on employee motivation, engagement, and retention, or on the company’s profitability.
Likewise, the original executive order looks to balance environmental impacts with other considerations in all areas of government operations. In requiring each government agency to create a Strategic Sustainability Plan, the order mandates that agencies “take into consideration environmental measures as well as economic and social benefits and costs in evaluating projects and activities based on lifecycle return on investment.”